Facing Wolves

Scripture Focus: 1 Timothy 4.1-5
1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

Acts 20.29-31a
29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard!…

Reflection: Facing Wolves
By John Tillman

Paul’s warning about false teachers echoes the words of Jesus. (Matthew 24.10-11; Mark 13.22) Paul would give similar warnings to the Ephesian elders in person. (Acts 20.28–31)

These were leaders who loved Paul well enough to travel nearly 50 miles to see him for the last time, as he journeyed to Rome. Yet some of them would become false teachers. Paul described these false teachers as “savage wolves” who “will not spare the flock.” (Acts 20.29)

Passages like this can make us paranoid and conspiratorial. “Anyone could be a false teacher—a demonic influence!” We can become obsessed with rooting out “demonic” false teachers. It can be exciting to think you are fighting demons and hunting wolves. However, in hunting for “wolves” we can injure a lot of sheep. People who hunt wolves often become wolf-like themselves.

What makes a wolf?

“Things taught by demons” sounds spookily supernatural, and it may be, but the lessons are mundane. The demonic teaching Paul is worried about isn’t exotic child sacrifices. It’s rule-following legalism and salvation by works: “Don’t marry,” “Don’t eat certain food.” (1 Timothy 4.3)

Legalism always ends in hypocrisy because legalists, and everyone else, fail to live up to their own standards. Hypocrisy and lies burn away people’s consciences. This is what makes a wolf. 

With consciences burned away, wolves refuse correction and scoff at compassion. A lack of humility or sensitivity makes them brutish, savage, and proud of it. A wolf glories in his teeth. Blood on his lips is a badge of honor. 

Like Timothy, we face “wolves” today. With hypocritical pride and calloused hearts, they are unsparing and brutal. However, Paul doesn’t seem to suggest that Timothy should hunt the wolves. He certainly doesn’t say, “mercilessly troll them on Twitter” or any 1st-century equivalent. I don’t want to minimize the danger of false teaching. We should take Paul’s warning seriously. We can’t ignore wolves or pretend they don’t exist. However, we do not have to worry about “exposing” wolves. They will expose themselves.

Rather than hunting wolves, Paul’s warning, given with tears, is not to become one of these wolves ourselves. (Acts 20.31) Paul tells Timothy to just keep feeding the sheep. (1 Timothy 4.6) Let’s hunt our own wolfish tendencies. Let’s resist legalism and hypocrisy with grace, truth, humility, and compassion.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
But as for me, this is my prayer to you, at the time you have set, O Lord:
In your great mercy, O God, answer me with your unfailing help.
Save me from the mire; do not let me sink; let me be rescued from those who hate me and out of the deep waters.
Let not the torrent of waters wash over me, neither let the deep swallow me up; do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me.
Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind; in your great compassion, turn to me. — Psalm 69.14-18

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 32 (Listen 5:30)
1 Timothy 4 (Listen 2:05)

Read more about Praying for Repentance
As we think of these people Paul writes of, who will gather teachers to suit their own desires, we need to think about our desires.

Read more about Learning from the Suffering
Deconstructing people are not wolves to be hunted but fellow sheep—often attacked and wounded sheep.

Embrace Your Mission

Scripture Focus: Acts 20.1-2
1 When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said goodbye and set out for Macedonia. 2 He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people…

Reflection: Embrace Your Mission
By Carolyn Soto Jackson

After seventeen scorching days in Italy last month, the music ministry in which I serve came back with hundreds of testimonies, many of them my own. 
 
This was my first mission trip, and one on which I had much to learn. My prayer was two-fold. Lord, change as many lives as possible with the gospel, including my own. God answered my prayers beautifully.
 
This mission frequently brought Apostle Paul to mind. 
 
Paul is one of the most pivotal and influential leaders in Christian history. Paul’s frequent missionary journeys seemed to have similar goals to my own. In his letters, we read on many occasions how Jesus changed his life. Of course, his purpose was to share the gospel with as many people as possible. 
 
Other disciples often joined Paul in his adventures. His mission was rarely accomplished alone. Paul’s mission brought others together and molded diverse people into unified disciples. But how? 
 
One way was by making himself available for others. 
 
Often Paul “embraced” and “encouraged” others while ministering to them. Part of his journey involved enjoying others and their company, and offering encouragement when things turned bleak. 
 
Let me be candid, on a mission when you are hot, exhausted, and hungry, life becomes real. Emotions arise, complaints begin to surface, and you realize serving with others puts you in vulnerable places. So, after a long trip, even amidst frustrations and complex emotions, embracing and encouraging others is an example of serving others well. This spirit of hospitality shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is crucial to embrace others in love, especially when we do not want to. 
 
How imperative is it to encourage others with our words and prayers? Read through Paul’s incredible travels, and notice how often he traveled with others and broke bread with those he encountered. 
 
We are all on a mission. 
 
On this mission, we must bring love wherever we go. Whether we go overseas or across the street, let us bring light to every place of darkness.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let me hear of your loving-kindness in the morning, for I put my trust in you; show me the road that I must walk, for I lift up my soul to you, — Psalm 143.8


Today’s Readings
Isaiah 62 (Listen -2:09)
Acts 20 (Listen – 5:22)

Read more about Humble, Welcoming Servants
Help us to serve all and humbly welcome those whom you place in the center of our gatherings.

A Recurring Nightmare

Scripture Focus: Nehemiah 10.39
We will not neglect the house of our God.

Acts 20.20-21
You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. 

From John:

Again this year, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States, we look back to a sermon from Dr. King

Like Dr. King, Paul was interested in actions which spring from the full implications of the gospel. Though racism and slavery took centuries to fall, it was Paul’s theology that struck the killing blow in the 1st century. Dr. King drew from Paul’s teaching, which demolished the cultural and theological foundations of racism and made actions of racial bias and inequity indefensible. (Though some will still try to defend them…)

The gospel is the only theology or philosophy which poisons racism at its root.

When we speak of spreading the gospel, may it be with the purpose of eradicating the scourge of racism, rather than apathetically denying its existence or mitigating our responsibility to oppose it.

Reflection: A Recurring Nightmare

By Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)

In 1963, on a sweltering August afternoon, we stood in Washington, D.C. and talked to the nation about many things. Toward the end of that afternoon, I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had—and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare.

I remember the first time I saw that dream turn into a nightmare, just a few weeks after I had talked about it. It was when four beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw my black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes’ problem of poverty.

I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating, and as I saw so-called military advisors, sixteen thousand strong, turn into fighting soldiers until today over five hundred thousand American boys are fighting on Asian soil.

Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.…

I still have a dream today that one day every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low, the rough places will be made smooth and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I still have a dream that with this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism.

With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.

*Abridged from A Christmas Sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — audio on YouTube (29:52)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons

Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord when he comes, when he comes to judge the earth. — Psalm 96.12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.


Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 10 (Listen -4:41)
Acts 20 (Listen -5:22)

A Trinity of Neglect :: Readers’ Choice

From John: I am thrilled to begin Readers’ Choice this year with a selection from a ministry mentor of mine. Bruce is in my prayers regularly for his health, but I regularly get group texts that he is praying for me, among many other friends. Bruce is certainly one who puts love and faith into action. It is a privilege to know him and be prayed for by him, and by other Park Forum readers as well. Thank you all.

Selected by reader, Bruce, from Louisiana
I love this. It certainly reminds us that loving others requires action not staying in our comfort zone, investing time not hiding our gifts, and doing the right thing not just thinking about it.

Matthew 25.37-40
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

1 Timothy 4.13-15
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.

Reflection: A Trinity of Neglect :: Readers’ Choice
Originally posted, January 25, 2019
By John Tillman

Matthew 25 is famous for the sheep and the goats parable. But really, the entire chapter is about people who shirked their responsibilities to themselves, to their master, and to others. The foolish virgins, the wicked servant, and the goats are a trinity of spiritual neglect.

Pray this weekend through the three stories. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you warning signs if you are following the path of one of these neglectful souls.

May we avoid the neglect of The Foolish Virgins…
We need not stumble into extravagant sin to endanger our relationship with you, Lord.

The virgins excluded from the banquet were not lascivious, or lustful. They were not greedy or cruel. They simply were irresponsible and unthoughtful.

May we never fall into the dim thoughtlessness of complacency, and may we regularly refresh ourselves with the oil of your Holy Spirit to brighten our lamps when called on.

May we avoid the lazy apathy of The Wicked Servant…
We need not squander your blessings to use them unworthily, oh Lord.

The servant given one bag of gold didn’t lose it, or gamble it away. He didn’t try to steal it. He just didn’t try to use it. The servant failed to understand, and so do we, that the king wasn’t investing his money with people. He was investing in people with his money. The king expected growth in the servant. Growth of the gold would only be a side effect. He would have found more mercy in the master had he tried and failed, than in failing to even try.

May we dare to step out with whatever seemingly insignificant gift he has given us. You, oh Lord, do not despise small beginnings or small gifts well and truly used in faith.

May we avoid the careless denial of responsibility of the goats…
We need not be ignorant of you, Lord, to miss Heaven. We need only be uninvolved and unconcerned for others.

The goats didn’t actively cause hunger, or thirst, or homelessness, or refugees. They didn’t cause nakedness, or crime, or unjust punishment, or oppression, or sickness. They just didn’t do anything about it. This was enough to show that Christ had no place in their lives and they had no place with Christ in his eternal life.

Dwell with the Holy Spirit this weekend, asking him to enlighten you about areas in which you may be prone to following in the missteps of the virgins, the servant, or the goats.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Our iniquities you have set before you, and our secret sins in the light of your countenance… — Psalm 90.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Judges 16 (Listen – 5:59) 
Acts 20 (Listen – 5:22)

This Weekend’s Readings
Judges 17 (Listen – 1:50), Acts 21 (Listen – 5:55)
Judges 18 (Listen – 4:39), Acts 22 (Listen – 4:26)

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